April 4, 2014
Voice Concern Over E-Books' Effect on Reading Comprehension
Digital devices and online reading materials are flooding U.S.
schools, but there are some early reasons to worry whether they
are helping children better learn to read.
was the message from a husband-and-wife research team from West
Chester University who presented two studies here as part of
the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association.
first study found that a small sample of students comprehended
traditional books at "a much higher level" than they
comprehended the same material when read on an iPad, said Heather
Schugar, an assistant education professor at the university,
located in southeastern Pennsylvania.
the second study found that while students in 18 classrooms
were "highly motivated by their interactions" with
interactive e-books created using Apple's iBooks Author software,
they "often skipped over text, where the meat of the information
findings, presented as part of a panel on "Understanding
Digital Literacy Practices," are part of a just-emerging
body of new research on how students interact with and learn
from the digital tablets and computers that are now prevalent
in U.S. classrooms.
early data raise some concerns and should prompt educators,
policymakers, and publishers to reconsider assumptions that
the skills students use to read print materials automatically
transfer to the reading of digital materials, the researchers
said. But they should not be taken as a definitive indictment
of iPad- or tablet-based literacy instruction in general, they
not necessarily that e-books are bad for reading," Ms.
Schugar said in an interview. "But teachers need more strategies
for teaching kids to use what they know about reading in an
the iPad study, the researchers worked with 13 "struggling"
middle-grades studentsa very small sample from which it
is impossible to draw wide conclusions.
of the students read print versions of four commonly used books,
and the others read digital versions.
accuracy and fluency levels were about the same, comprehension
dipped noticeably for those students reading on iPads.
interactions that diverted focus from the text without communicating
any additional meaning or offering learning scaffolds were likely
a big factor, said Jordan Schugar, an instructor at West Chester
lot of people doing publishing don't really understand the reading
process," he said, and improving student reading is partly
about "what publishers can do to make their materials less
game-y and more functional, with more cognitive elements and
less gimmicky stuff."
the positive side of the ledger, the researchers said, student
engagement with, and motivation for, the digital materials sharply
outpaced that for traditional print books.
researchers on the panel found similar tensions between engagement
of Minnesota doctoral candidate Madeleine Israelson, for example,
found that early-grades teachers were highly motivated to use
ed-tech and classroom apps to teach literacy, but were primarily
"using technology to support students' traditional print-based
literacies, not to foster students' development of new literacy
skills and strategies."